Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Inwood: A Walk in Memory

The Inwood

(A Walk in Memory)

Barely old enough to remember it, but

I wasn’t old enough to stay by myself

Away from home, away from Mommy,

Even with Nana, as I was proving

In this memory. Who would have known

Then, I would later live here, learn here,

Learn to lead here in my path of following?

But here I sit in the very spot, in what is

An early landmark in my life. Do I

Remember it or have I just been

Reminded, at every event of meaning

That followed: toasts at my wedding,

Jokes at gatherings, the needlings

Of love, made solid by time and stories

Like these? I was excited, or as Nana says,

“You were so proud, teasing your sister,

“I get to stay with Nanny, I get to stay,”

In that high pitched nasally twang of

Little brother sassing, “and you have

To go to school!” We had so many plans

You and I,” she would say. And we did.

We went up in the attic to get my uncle’s

Toys, and we went shopping to get all

My favorite snack foods, Mommy liked

To limit, and she bought me a record,

The kind that tells a story and comes

Folded in the story book.  Aristocats,

I can see it clearly. She also read me

A book before bed, “Jerry so liked

The Sugar Hill Gang.” Sometime after

Bed and story and the tucked in kiss,

It started—the fit. Tears flying, sadness,

Anger, “I want my Mommy! I want

My Mommy! You’re not my Mommy!”

And the phone call was made. “You

Have to come get him. . . Silence. . .

 Can you meet me half way. . . Silence

. . . The Inwood.  . . Silence. . . Yeah,

Right there in Gordonsville.” Click,

And with that click the tears were

Gone, and the smile returned. Nanny,

And I on a road trip. My memory

Is foggy on the rest of the story, maybe

Because the embarrassing parts have

Already been told, but I remember now,

As I sit here awaiting my cheeseburger,

Sipping a sweet tea, in this spot, something

Cemented in my mind. I see here in what is

A perfect picture of what was, etched enough

Into my mind’s photo bank—more like

A negative than a print—this very place,

And I can testify to its sameness, not from

Some ignorant knowing prejudice of its

Old fashioned simple style, nor from the wear,

The years have left—scars, scratches, marks,

Faded paint and curtains—but from true

Experience, too young to bring to mind,

But deeply felt. It makes you wonder just

How much of an impact places have on us,

Places connected to narratives of our lives

To which we have no words. I only can

Bring this forward because returning here

The words and feelings have collided. Wow,

And all I was seeking was a cheeseburger

To fill my belly, tickle my tastebuds, and

Defy my ever closing arteries one more time,

During my lunch break from bulletins

And sermons, or care notes and phone calls.

I look around, trying to fill in the negative,

To enter the dark room, to process the image

And develop the print into something I can

Share. To walk in here is to go back in time,

Lunch counter, where you can see the griddle,

Hear the sizzle, and smell the bacon frying.

It actually hits you in the face, the aromatic

Collection of decades of grease. Green plastic

Leather barstools—I can feel myself sitting

On one as we waited for mom and dad, and

You can’t sit without spinning, and I distinctly

Remember a wobble. The footboard is raised,

Metal, sitting below faded—is it pink and peach

Striping?—though the stain is black from years

Of patrons and their feet. “The Inwood Restaurant

Welcomes You! God Bless You! In God we

Trust,” and a reference to Psalm 118. I think,

“May we all give thanks. May we take the time.”

An old white sign still hangs on the wood

Paneling; in red 80’s t-shirt letters, “We are

Not a fast-food restaurant. We appreciate

Your patience, while we prepare your meal,

Especially for you!” and then in personalized

Script, “Thank You.” I think to myself,

“I can make that trade—my time, a few

Moments for a meal prepared with loving

Thanks especially for me.” I can’t help but

Wonder how many hurried people, unwilling

To make the trade, were impatient enough

To predicate such a firm statement from those

Loving angels, as another sign rightly dubs

These cooks and servers. I feel sorry for hurried

People living in a world that moves so fast.

When did It happen? When did life speed up

And pass this place by? Though not all of life,

Surely, has passed her by, for thankfully,

Here she still stands. Another faded poster hangs

To the right, ironically, stubbornly, beautifully,

Standing in the face of the arrogance of progress;

A picture of a dogsled team of Huskies saying,

“If you can’t run with the Big Dogs, stay on

The porch.” The old girl knows she is still big

Enough to keep running after all these years.

“Nothing stirs the soul like the face of Irony,”

Keep fighting, old girl, somehow we need you.

Below and around the sign are the pictures

Of angels past. The faces fade left to right into

The present: bangs and curls, puffed, and big

To flat pulled back ponies, the tails and tshirts

Of today, intermingled with baby portraits. Are

These kids grown? Do they own one of the

Pulled back ponies? Have they become the new

Generation of angels? Are they adults, who

As children were marked by this place by more

Tangible memories than I? Around the pictures,

Below the sign and poster are fire and police

Patches, from all over, spanning time and place.

They stand as merit badges, exchanges of service

And respect. I tried to count them, as I started

My food came, but there must be at least forty,

No probably fifty. Nah, a number like forty-seven

Or fifty-three is more likely, more random than

Square, for these were gathered over time, with

No set plan. It started with one simple gesture,

And grew as these things seem to do in real life.

To the far right just below the empty space

Where more patches could be placed, is the

Salad bar, complete with iceberg lettuce, pickled

Beets, and the red colored crunchy bacon bits,

And another sign that prohibits salad sharing,

And another one reminding you to always use

A clean plate. Experience in life leads to many

Rules I guess because these signs are all over

The place. They stand as loving reminders, as

If to say, “Though we are angels, we just won’t

Put up with no foolishness. Don’t let these

Halos fool you. There are limits to the notion

That the customer is always right, so stay

In your lane, and there won’t be any problem!”

Remember, “Seat yourself!” “No Smoking!”

“No Checks!” “No one behind the counter,

Except Employees!” It is fair enough, and we

As customers should be willing to give that

Requisite respect, at the very least. Delicious,

My especially for me made cheeseburger

Was delicious, and it came with a smile.

I don’t think we ate, Nana and I, as we

Waited all those years ago, but maybe we

Had some sweet tea. It warms my heart

To know in a world where so much spins

Daily out of control, a few simple things

Stay the same, and allow us to realize how

Interconnected our lives truly are, and the

Retracing of our steps can give us insight

Into who we are, no matter how fragmented

Our lives seem, and how spread our travels

Take us. It is just a blip on the map, a road

Side restaurant, where many have eaten,

But for me it is more than that, it is a living

Memory, and as Psalm 118 reminds us,

I shall of course ever remain deeply thankful.

Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
Pastor, Gordonsville Presbyterian Church

Who is to Blame?

Who is to Blame?

A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson

August 21, 2016

at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia

 Romans 8: 1-8

Let us pray,

Help us to see despite our eyes

Help us to think outside of our minds

Help us to be more than our lives   

For your eyes show the way

    Your mind knows the truth

    Your being is the life.


There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

This summer I have found that the villains in Shakespeare have been the most interesting to work with. It was great to work with Richard III all those weeks ago, and then Macbeth of course, and Shylock last week, but I think this mornings’, Edmund from King Lear has been my favorite to wrestle with. He is the bastard son of Gloucester in King Lear, and his villainous plotting and scheming live in the sub plot of the play. While the title character Lear divides his kingdom between his two daughters who say they love him but don’t, Edmund is working to supplant his half brother Edgar, and cause a little chaos along the way. Shakespeare creates him as a character who is just created to be a villain. Everything about him screams villain, and he lives into the stereotype of the illegitimate son. . . but in this speech he is saying that is has nothing to do with being illegitimate, it has nothing to do with him being a bastard, he says that he wants to make it clear that he is evil by his own devising, by his own choice, and that the stars and his birth have nothing to do with it. In other words, he is claiming that he is very much in control of himself and his fate. Let’s take a look.

This is the excellent foppery of the world, that, when we are
sick in fortune, often the surfeit of our own behaviour, we make
guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars; as if
we were villains on necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion;
knaves, thieves, and treachers by spherical pre-dominance;
drunkards, liars, and adulterers by an enforc'd obedience of
planetary influence; and all that we are evil in, by a divine
thrusting on. An admirable evasion of whore-master man, to lay
his goatish disposition to the charge of a star! My father
compounded with my mother under the Dragon's Tail, and my
nativity was under Ursa Major, so that it follows I am rough and
lecherous. Fut! I should have been that I am, had the
maidenliest star in the firmament twinkled on my bastardizing.
Edgar- and pat! he comes, like the catastrophe of the old comedy. My
cue is villainous melancholy, with a sigh like Tom o' Bedlam.
O, these eclipses do portend these divisions! Fa, sol, la, mi.

Do you hear him, this man who is out to get revenge for his low station, out to undo what he feels is the unfair treatment he has received from life? He is exactly what everyone thinks he should be, what the society would suggest that he would be, lower in character, evil, different, but at the same time he is saying that it, his birth, has nothing to do with who he is. He is in control. He is free to choose. He is his own man, and it is his choice to do exactly what he is doing. Himself and not his birth has placed the chip on his shoulder. He has emancipated himself from the restrictions of the universe, and is free to be whatever he chooses, and he chooses to be evil. . . ironic huh. Is this the picture of the control that sin has over us, blinding us to our inability to do anything else, be anything else, but at the same time claiming the opposite, claiming that we are actually in control, blinded to our slavery to sin. Is this what Paul means when he writes about the weakened flesh that cannot live to the law, or the idea of setting your mind on the flesh and being unable to live into the gifts of the spirit.

It is something I hear all the time from my students, especially on their Final Exam, when I ask them all kinds of thinking type questions, like are you a good person. . .or what is evil, or what is the purpose of education?. . .  the one question that is always last on that test is “who are you?” And they almost all say. I am me, and no one can determine who I am except me. I am in control. I make the rules. I determine it. . . .or my favorite. . . I am going about the business of “just doing me.” I decided to find one that was a good example, and it just happened to be on top. . . it said “I am (The student’s name) and I am the one who determines who I am. Nobody will tell me what I should or shouldn’t do. I control my own destiny.” This is the typical line, sometime in our conversations I always ask them about the specifics. . . okay you are you, then how come you can’t get your homework done. . . because you tell me you want to. . . you tell me you can do it. . . but at the same time it isn’t done. Why is that? Why is it that where there is a will. . . or at least a supposed will. . . there isn’t a way. . . Why is that when you want to do something, or at least you say you do, you can’t get it done? And it isn’t just kids right. . . we all fall into that place. We all find ourselves with great intentions but then the follow through isn’t always there. We want to lose weight, we know that we should pass on the ice cream, or cut down on the salt, or on the French fries completely. . . but we simply can’t. Why? And it is often more important things, too, like relationships and where we are in life. There is something broken in us that does not allow us to always choose the path that we know is the best for us, and that we in our heart seem to desire. How strange that truly is. It is the picture of fragmentation and brokenness. This is our broken selves coming through, and this I believe is where Edmund is, ironically saying he is his own man, vowing to the fact, but all the while falling into the trap of his broken nature.

So what is the step forward? How do we fix this malady? How do we repair the brokenness? How do we make whole what has been fragmented? Paul speaks to this dilemma directly in his letter to the Romans, and chapter 8 is probably one of the most succinct parts.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

No condemnation. . . stop worrying about the results of your actions, it is not a step forward. . . guilt is not a step forward, why because worry over condemnation is a concern of the flesh and a concern of the self. . . Christ is setting us free from such things. You see Paul goes on:

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Christ did what we could not do. He went into the desert with the intention of following God, and when the devil tempted, when that voice of brokenness reared its head, he sent it away. Three times. It did not matter how tired he was, how hungry he was, how consumed by this incarnate flesh he was, Christ stood up to temptation and stayed connected to God. He fulfilled the law, and the desert was not enough, he kept this faithful journey through the desert of hatred and oppression and smallness, all the way to the Cross, and proclaimed it accomplished, then rose from the dead and returned to us.

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.

Setting our minds on the things of the flesh. . . what are those things? What does it mean to set our mind instead on the things of the spirit? Where does that occur with Edmund? He sets his mind on envy of his brother, he sets his mind on revenge, to take what his brother has, and it doesn’t even seem like he wants the things, he just wants to have them so his brother does not. . . again the brokenness of the flesh. . . is setting our minds on the flesh setting them on the brokenness. . . and then the opposite is to set it on the wholeness. You see Edmund seeks to deny an aspect of his life. . . he says it has nothing to do with him, but it all does. . . everything from his conception to himself to now has something to do with him, that is the thing about saying, I’m going to do me, I’m the one who determines my life. . . how much of life, your life, are you then denying because there is so much more to you than just you. . . there are all the people that have been put into your life, there are all the experiences that you have had. . . they all shape you, they all make a difference in who you are, and there is not many of them that you are in control of. . . The American Theologian Jonathan Edwards, when writing a treatise on Free Will and God’s Sovereignty talked about this idea, which he called means, that God shapes our lives many different ways, there are so many aspects to our lives that we don’t have control over. . . and to say that we have a free and independent will is ridiculous because we do not shape all these aspects.  . . Is living to wholeness, being awake and aware of all of the self, not just the some. . . while at the same time living to the spirit is understanding the interconnectedness of it all because it is God shaping that interconnectedness. . . and then living into the spirit is about loving because loving looks outside of the self to the relationships of life. It’s opening ourselves up to the actual connectedness of ourselves that includes everything, not just me doing me, but me doing us, and you and I, and it all, by the way that our lives are intertwined. Understanding this connectivity makes us more than anything we think we have determining ourselves in our brains.

To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

Our flesh ends, but all of our relationships, the outward, connected, that is what lives on, and it mirrors the Trinitarian interconnectedness of father son and holy spirit. And we are made whole in our connection.

For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Edmund is hostile to God in declaring his emancipated place in the world, his freedom in the world to do and be whatever he wants. . . he is being hostile to God, and is being hostile to those parts of himself that he would like to ignore and be free from. . . and our culture, shown by those teenagers and what they have been taught is hostile to God, because they are saying I control who I am, I am in control, I make of myself whatever I want, I declare independence from all the structures at place in the world that have ever been. We take the Declaration of Independence out of context so often, not free and independent to be whoever we want, but instead to be whatever we are, what we were created to be. I am not sure exactly where God is leading us, but I have faith that it is good, and that he is leading us to life and peace.

I end every Sunday School class with this prayer, and I’d like to end this sermon in the same place. . . Almighty God thank  you that we have been brought together today to grow closer to one another and closer to you. Bless us on our interconnected journey together towards you. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Susanna's Sonnet

Susanna's Sonnet

There’s something in her eyes beyond her year,
Like you can see her thinking as she grows.
When she reacts to every sound she hears,
We get a glimpse of just how much she knows.
Like a seed, she contains, all her years to come,
They live inside her e’er expanding frame.
I often wish that God would show us some
Foretaste of th’ story her life will proclaim.
But I’m content to love, and watch, and wait,
And every moment savor as it’s given,
Taking time in prayer, I’ll try to say it
Each chance I get, that I’m in debt to heaven,
And honored to fulfill my promised part,
For He gave me her life to fill my heart.


Sunday, August 7, 2016

Signifying Nothing

Signifying Nothing

A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson

August 7, 2016

at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia

Psalm 22

Matthew 7: 24-27
Sound file click below

Let us pray,

Help us to see despite our eyes

Help us to think outside of our minds

Help us to be more than our lives   

For your eyes show the way

    Your mind knows the truth

    Your being is the life.


I knew that I couldn’t do this summer of Shakespeare extravaganza without touching on one of my favorite plays, Macbeth. But some of my favorite lines, some of the more famous lines, really don’t have anything to do with scriptural truths. It’s a dark play, and a powerful play, and there are really great lines that are so poetically brilliant, but usually they are all about what not to do rather than what to do, so it’s hard to take direct wisdom from them. On one hand, Hamlet is a play about what happens when you don’t act, when you are constantly discerning what to do, and never get around to doing anything. . . it may be that the not doing is the right thing, but the pressures of the world and the pressures to act weigh hard on Hamlet’s mind throughout. Macbeth on the other hand is about acting on the wrong decision, the wrong discernment, taking the bad advice, and then going full force, “screwing your courage to the sticking place,  and then letting the chips fall. . . holding on tight, and watching it all crumble about you. Just like Hamlet, there is a supernatural motivation, but for Macbeth it is three witches, three servants of Hecate, three demons, are they to be understood as real, or as just figments of Macbeth’s ambition, symbols of his ambition, the voices in our head that tell us to go about winning at all cost. I want to read the speech first, before I get to the scripture because I want us to have the frame of mind right before we get there because this morning’s sermon is going to be a little bit different. . . we are going to come at one of the more well known parables, one of the more well known teachings of Jesus, one of the more well known sections of the sermon on the mount, but we are going to come at it the opposite way it is normally done, not the what to do, but the flipside, the what not to do of it all. . . .

So the speech from Macbeth. Let me give a little background. This speech comes from the end, after all the best laid plans of mice and men have failed, and the end is near for our anti-hero. He has listened to the witches, with their, “double double toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble.” He has murdered the king, his guest, he has ascended to the throne, but now all of his ambition, all of his paranoia, all of his plottings have come home to roost, and his wife is dead. . . not just his wife, but his wife who acted as his motivating force, a voice of go for it, a challenging voice, and strong voice, possibly the reason for his action, but that voice is gone and past, and he realizes all of his work has come to naught, she had said, that if he screwed his courage to the sticking place they would not fail, but they have, not in the short term, but in the long term where it all matters. . . the ends were supposed to justify the means, but it all fell apart. He is lost, disillusioned, weary, and resigned to his fate, having lost faith in everything he had ever hoped to be true. Listen to what he says. . . having just heard the news about his wife:

Seyton says:

The queen, my lord, is dead.

And Macbeth says these words. . .

She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

That last line just sings. . . life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. . . but look earlier, and it is all there in your bulletin,  he says, “she should have died hereafter” hear that word “should”, it is an important word in our vocabulary, when we say that things should happen, we are claiming some kind of knowledge about the world, the way the world works, the way the world is set up, a claim on justice. . . this is what should be. . . have you ever said that about something. . . he should do this, she should do that. . . the world should be this way. . . the world should be that way. . . why isn’t the world the way it should be? We constantly get caught up in the shoulds, but so often those shoulds are built on the weak foundation of our own point of view, our own flawed point of view, our own limited point of view. . . and the next line sets it up so well, he says, “there would have been time for such a word” the word there he is referring to is the “should”. . . there would be time for shoulds to come to be. . . but he says tomorrow. . . and tomorrow . . and tomorrow, it always comes tomorrow, but tomorrow creeps in the slowness of time, always to the last syllable. . . but what then? They simply turn into “yesterdays” and “our yesterdays, all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.” He says, “out, out brief candle” echoing his wife’s refrain of out, out damned spot,” when she is trying to wash the invisible imaginary blood from her guilt ridden hands put there by the paranoia of guilt, the danger of biting off more than you can chew, entering into a world beyond what you can handle, a world where you thought you were in control, but find yourself to be hopelessly. . . not. This the world based on vain, flawed, misguided, undiscerned, incorrect, small, ambition-laid, self-interested “shoulds.”

So often we as people throw around that should word. . . and maybe we shouldn’t. . . oh there we go again, what do I know? But back to the speech. . . after finding his should empty. . . it leaves his vision of life empty as well. . . which is telling about the dangers of the should. . . he says the bit about the light and the fools, then he says that life is a bad actor on the stage, acting taking up time and space for a bit, then forever forgotten. . . and then my favorite, the “tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing. . .” William Faulkner took the title for his famous book, The Sound and the Fury from this line, and it is a powerful book, a bleak book. . . a book that, like Macbeth, also finds and shows the emptiness of misguided shoulds. Living a life of misguided shoulds leaves you disillusioned when you find just how empty they all were. . . I know it’s a bleak message, huh. . . I wondered whether I could preach such things. . . and not bring everybody down. . . but I thought there was something to it, something in there of value. . . we shall see. . . Let’s turn to scripture:

Before I get to the gospel lesson that I finally ended with, which I think fits this situation so perfectly, I must admit I didn’t start there. . . and I had the bulletin all done, and would have sent it to Gerri to print with a different passage, had I not waited to get DeAnna’s music information until Friday night. . . I would have gone with my original thought, because what captures this idea better than any. . . what captures the darkest pit, the darkest moment of life, the moment when it all hangs in the balance, and it seems the balance has come up empty. . . I thought of the cross. . . the moment of the most darkness, the most pain. . . I tried to put myself in Jesus’ shoes at that moment. . . hanging on the cross. . . abandoned by his friends. . . condemned by those he was trying to save. . . nails through his hands and feet. . . scars and blisters from being beaten. . . dying of thirst. . . asphyxiation. . . starvation. . . and exposure. . . Jesus screams out, or does he whisper it. . . the Bible doesn’t say. . . and I don’t know which one would be more dramatic. . . the scream of pain. . . or the whisper of defeated disillusioned disappointment. . . whispering “Eli, Eli Sabachthani. . . My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” That’s it right, that’s that moment of this world is a ship of fools, heading south, sound and fury. . . certainly signifying nothing. . .

And you can see where that all was heading. . . with the Call to Worship coming from Jesus’ source material for those words, Psalm 22. . .and I thought it powerful enough to include all of it, making the rest of the verses of Psalm 22 the Old Testament lesson. . . I wanted you to hear those images of disillusion and pain. . . the chorus of the pit. . . the chorus of despair, despondence, and disdain. . . the echoes of the disillusionment. . . they shouldn’t have crucified him. . . his disciples shouldn’t have abandoned him. . . Pilate shouldn’t have washed his hands clean. . . they should have freed Jesus instead of Barabbas. . . they shouldn’t have beat him. . . they shouldn’t have crucified him. . . he should have let the cup pass. . . God should not have given his only begotten son to this end. . . it shouldn’t be. . . I wanted you to hear them all from the Psalmist:

“crying with no answer. . . night after night with no rest. . . a worm. . . no longer human. . . scorned. . . mocked. . . despised. . . encircled by the bulls of Bashan.. . . their mouths watering like a ravenous lion. . . poured out like water. . . empty. . . bones out of joint. . . heart like wax. .. melted. . . dried mouth. . . tongue sticking to my jaws. . . laid in the dust of death. . . (where have we heard that image today? Again Shakespeare knows his Bible right, “the way to dusty death”) dogs around me. . .evil doers encircled. . . hands shriveled. . . feet shriveled. . . counting every bone. . . dividing my clothes. . . casting lots for them. . . It’s all there. . . it echoes Jesus’ very situation, though written at least 600 and maybe closer to 1100 years earlier. . . why because the pit is a human situation. . . we know it well. . . but there is one reason that I found that this passage, these images. . . this beautifully grotesque and whole image of human suffering didn’t quite work this morning, didn’t capture Macbeth. . . is what surrounds the images of despair, both in the Psalm, and in Jesus’ words, it’s actually why Jesus alludes to this Psalm especially. . . it is because there is hope here for him. . . hope for psalmist. . . despite it all. . . the pain and suffering. . . and sweat and challenge and fear and pain. . . there is a hope. . . and it comes from the Lord. . . there is a But and it comes from the power of God. . . there is a, “not so fast my friend” all is not lost. . . ringing loudly from the creator of the universe. . . why my God why have you forsaken me? In saying these words. . . there is enough faith. . . to turn the ship around. . . because He, the Psalmist, We. . . have not been forsaken. . . God’s steadfast love remains, and it is never too late. . . unless and this is the difference between Jesus, the Psalmist, and God allow it us. . . and Macbeth. . . he has allowed despair to defeat him. . . and all then is lost. . . he has given up hope, and hope is gone. . . the world to him signifies nothing. . .

Now we’re ready for the gospel, friends the gospel difference. .  . Matthew 7: 24-27, the very bitter end of the Sermon of the Mount:

 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”

Why is Macbeth lost, why is he without hope, why is he despairing to the point of nullification and defeat. . . because he is a fool who built his house on the sand. . . and now it has gone splat. . . the winds came. . . the rains poured. . . and the foundation was blown under by the waves. . . he built his world on ambition. . . he built his world on deceit. . . murder. . . broken hospitality. . . lies. . . and if that were not enough, Shakespeare even includes the Witches to show that his motivation comes from below, from evil. . . like the temptation in the Desert. . . the temptation that Jesus has passed through. . . Macbeth has been tempted alike, but he is not strong enough to stand. . . the devil offers him the kingdom, to rule as far as the eyes can see. . . and he took the deal. And when you take that deal. . . the world gets upside down, wrong becomes right, good becomes bad, virtue becomes sin, heaven is hell and hell is heaven. . . it is a lie unremittingly repeated. . . and in such a world it is not long before you are lost, searching, with no rock to stand on, all there is, is sinking sand. . . and how can you ever in such a world discern what you or anyone else should do, but you are blinded and that is all you can do. . . you wonder why other people can’t see the same world you do, why don’t they agree with your path forward, why can’t they just all get on board. . .  but they can’t and they never will see it because you created this world. . . it is a world build on lies. . .it is a world of the lost. . . it is a world of sin. . . and it is a world with no hope. It is a forsaken world. . . like Psalm 1. . . it echoes Psalm 1. . . right. . . the way of the wicked is lost and scattered by the wind. . . that is so much like lost in the flood waters with no foundation. . . or living in the world where all you see is darkness, and all you hear is the clamor of fools, with all of their sound and their fury. . . signifying nothing. . .

But we are not Macbeth. We have not killed, deceived, or usurped the throne from our guest. . . we don’t even have a king. . . and if we did he certainly wouldn’t visit us in our homes. . . . where do we fit in all of this? Do we feel like there is no hope? Do we feel like our world is spiraling like wild out of control? Do we feel like we have to choose between two evils? Do we feel like we have to buy gold, a gun, and some food to last us through the next crisis? Do we feel like there is nothing we can do about it anyway? Do we feel that the teller of our story must be an idiot, full of sound and fury? Do we feel like our lives signify nothing? No. . . me neither. . . at least not on my best days. . . and it is on those best days where I am clinging to the rock, where my eyes are open to the past. . . to the great wonders I have known. . . to the great and amazing miracles that have brought this world to this moment. . . not the world that should be. . . because none of this should have been. . . perhaps I was wrong when I said Jesus shouldn’t have been crucified. . . because thank God he was. . . otherwise we would not be basking in the amazing glow and grace and hope of the Resurrection. . . the knowledge of the depth and wideness and power of Love. . . and if I really say that. . . if I was really so wrong on that whole Jesus shouldn’t be crucified thing . . how much more wrong am I when I deign to say what should or shouldn’t be now at this moment. . . because none of this should be. . . in my perspective none of this should be. . . I wouldn’t have done it like this. . . none of it. . . who am I to say how things should be? . . . we are a miracle, we each are miracles that should never have happened. . . life itself. . . and the story of history. . . so much of it shouldn’t be. . . our coming together on this day at this moment. . . it shouldn’t be. . . but it is! It is! It is. . . God is not the God who should be. . . but God is the God who is. . . now and forever. . . And if our eyes are open to it, or as Jesus says if we have ears to listen and to hear it as it is. . . then we can start building on the rock of our salvation. . . and that means building according to the sermon on the mount. . . I could go through it and each teaching, every single one is broken by Macbeth. . . one by one. . . and it all goes splat for him. . . what is our world built on? Where shall we set our eyes? To whom shall we listen? The answer is painfully obvious. . . and is not on a ballot, not on TV, not found in our systems at all. . . but that is where most people these days seem to find their hope. . . and it makes us so cynical. . . and cynicism is the depths of hopelessness. . . and the meaning of cynicism. . . the definition is. . .that the world signifies nothing. . . sounds familiar right. . . I said the answer is painfully obvious. . . and that it isn’t found where we typically look, the easy choices the world presents to us in our own deserts of temptation. . . perhaps that is what makes it so painful. . . but then again our fear of pain has built many a sandcastle in the desert. . . built of sand on sand. . . and time and tides always wash them away. . . you’d think we’d learn. . . . Yeah I know I mixed that metaphor. . . water shouldn’t flow in the desert.. . . hmm there is that should again. . . father forgive us we know not what we do. . . let us bend our knees, find the humility we deeply need to find, forget the shoulds that fill our mind, and bathe ourselves in the waters of grace. . . and come again in humble supplication. . . where? To the table, why? Because even so. . . even so. . . we are invited. . . it is never too late. . . hope is never far away. . . we turn. . . and begin to walk again hand in hand in the cool of the day. We are not made for defeat. . . we are not made for despondence. . . we are not made to be forsaken. . . we are made for, by and in Love. . . in which lives our hope eternally. Amen.